Written by ALEYA DUTTA CHOUDHURY
In a far corner of the Bombay High Court, removed from all the arguments and appeals, 53-year-old Manjit Thakur is hard at work. Squatting on the stone floor, with a spool of white plastic thread at his feet, his fingers deftly weave the base of a wooden framed chair.
He skilfully starts threading, adding layer by layer in a scientific manner, slowly creating a strong support. Every now and then, he wields a small blunt knife cutting off any spare plastic, producing a deep twanging sound as he finetunes the weave. This is the third chair base he has completed today and it isn’t even 2 pm yet. “I average about five chairs a day,” he says. “It takes about one and a half hours to finish one.”
Thakur primarily works in chair caning and sometimes dabbles in furniture repairing and polishing. Widely practised at a time, chair caning has become a dying craft since the fancier alternative of sponge has taken over, he says. There are still a couple of places, mostly government offices, which continue to patronise the old well-tested caning. “I do caning work for government offices all over the city,” Thakur says. “The whole of Mantralaya has only caned chairs.” He contends that chairs with caned bases are much healthier than the alternative. “The sponge bases carry so many germs, they make you sick,” he says.
Apart from just making these chairs, he also goes every couple of months to repair and redo the caning that may have come undone. Thakur says the life of a caned chair is anything from two to 10 years. Thakur works for Maharashtra Andha Audyogik Utpadak Sahakari Sanstha, a furniture company which employs and promotes the rights of the visually impaired. The craft was passed on to him by his visually impaired mentor, who has since passed away. He originally started off on his own in 1998 when he first moved to the city.
“At one point I had four people working under me, now I am working at someone else’s mercy,” he says. He is paid around Rs 500 a day and, along with a couple of side jobs in private houses, makes Rs 10,000-15,000 per month. He rues the sorry state and treatment of labourers in the country.
“I had big plans of one day starting my own company but my circumstances changed that. My family needed me.”
Adjusting the weave, he says, “My younger son is completely paralysed. It takes two men to lift him, clothe, feed and bathe him. I have been to all the hospitals in Mumbai but none of them have been able to cure him.” With similar anguish he talks about his elder son who is mentally challenged and unable to read or write. His only ray of hope is his daughter, who recently enrolled in a nursing course. Thakur, a resident of Vikhroli, travels all around the city on assignments. His day starts at 10 am and usually winds up by 5 pm.
He sources the plastic weave from Masjid Mandir and sets off to whichever part of the city he is needed. Skilled in his work but resigned to his lifestyle, “You got to do what you can to survive, and this is all I know.”